Off Limits

It's a family affair

As you head north up I-25 from the border to Colorado Springs, you know you're approaching conservative country. After all, this stretch of pavement is known as Ronald Reagan Highway, and there's even an official exit for Focus on the Family. Still, the "Welcome to Colorado" sign, complete with state logo, that stands on the east side of the highway near mile marker 88 had us stumped with this message: "We'll treat you like family. Please treat us like home."

Turns out the sign isn't a special welcome to Family-friendly Colorado Springs, but a last vestige of the "Colorado's Burning" summer of 2002, when Viacom donated billboards to the state's attempts to lure tourists scared by the wildfires -- and according to Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Stacey Stegman, this one just never came down. The www.Colorado.com address on the sign is still good, as is the 1-800-COLORADO number that the site directs you to for more information -- where you'll likely reach a "Colorado tourism operator" based in Kansas City, Missouri, where USA 1000, the company that has the Colorado Tourism Office's phone-answering contract, is located.

Yes, there's no place like home. But just which home is that?

Al Franken, the new face of Amendment 36.
Al Franken, the new face of Amendment 36.

Comic relief: Celebrity endorsements don't guarantee that proposals become law. For example, a 2001 bill that would have forced parents seeking a divorce to get counseling before they could split sank like the Titanic once it was tagged the "Dr. Laura Bill," after professional radio scold Dr. Laura Schlessinger promised to testify in its behalf at the Colorado Legislature.

Still, comedian turned talk-show host Al Franken didn't hesitate to publicly back Amendment 36, which calls for Colorado's electoral votes to be distributed proportionally rather than in a winner-take-all fashion, during the October 4 edition of his Air America show, which was broadcast live from the Boulder Theater. Granted, Franken, who'd already spent a few days in metro Denver at voter-registration rallies and book signings, doesn't pretend to be an expert on Colorado politics. After amendment backer Rick Ridder told him that Colorado's governor opposed the measure, Franken asked if the guv was part of a local "beer empire," then admitted that "I don't know anything about Colorado's governor" -- which should come as a relief to Bill Owens -- before describing a fantasy state in which all of the elected officials are suds magnates. Imaginary office-holders included Senator Budweiser, Senator Miller and Senator Heineken, who can't become president because of his foreign birth and has a groping problem "when he's drunk or on steroids." (What, no Mayor Brewpub?) Returning to reality, Franken called Amendment 36 an "elegant" way of making the presidential election more reflective of the popular vote without ditching the electoral college.

The proposal has done fairly well in the polls -- but that was before there was any reason to hype it as the "Franken Amendment." Any advice, Dr. Laura?

And while you're at it, Doc, we could use some sartorial suggestions for the aforementioned Bill Owens, who was seen on FoxNews Sunday with Democrat Jennifer Granholm, the governor of Michigan, another swing state. While Granholm, like host Chris Wallace, was garbed in a business suit, the sweater-wearing Owens looked like he'd just been inspecting the construction site that is the current Governor's Mansion. And he did his best to hammer away at 36, "a brazen attempt by the Kerry campaign to cost George Bush eight votes in Colorado. The guy who's funded it, a millionaire out of Brazil, has funded the campaign here in Colorado trying to change this state's electoral votes for this election. Why? Because he knows this state's going to go for George Bush, give us nine votes on the Bush side. And under proportional, it would be a 5-4 vote."

Owens may get national face time, but John Hickenlooper, the aforementioned Mayor Brewpub, is definitely winning the personal-appearance count. Last week he averaged over five speeches a day -- and no matter whether he was addressing the Golden Triangle Association or the Rocky Mountain Air and Waste Management Association, he managed to work in his three key issues in the upcoming election: support for Denver's charter amendment that would make a police monitor possible, support for the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District tax renewal, and support for FasTracks, the transportation vote that the mayor's pushing so hard, he's the official face of the latest 4A ad -- although the commercial doesn't identify the geeky guy riding the rails. On Saturday, Hickenlooper even touted FasTracks to the most unlikely of groups, but one no doubt in need of public transportation later that day: celebrants at the Great American Beer Festival, many of whom come from around the world -- and not by light rail -- to drink beer in Denver, the drunkest city in America, according to the September Men's Health magazine.

End of days: Later this month, the gay-and-lesbian club Evolution will open on the corner of 22nd and Champa streets, where Muddy's Java Cafe once stood as a beacon of light in those dark days of youthful angst. We asked readers to send in their Muddy's memories, and now offer one last hurrah from Daniel Landes:

Awash in self-doubt, I was not unlike many twenty-year-olds: misanthropic, disheartened and sardonic. Perhaps I was just slightly better read. I was post-Kerouac's Dharma Bums but pre-Bukowski's Ham on Rye when I ambled into Muddy's looking for work. In what I thought divinely inspired spontaneous prose, I filled out the application.

I flew solomente my first night in the kitchen. The cook who was scheduled to train me had been arrested for breaking into a warehouse and throwing what was one of the first raves in Denver. I was assured I could handle it, the menu was not too complicated, and being a Tuesday night, it was notoriously slow. Once a prediction of a slow night is issued aloud in a restaurant, the curse is already at play to pack the place in the most unsynchronistic way. When the show let out from the Mercury Cafe at 2 a.m., I got my ass handed to me.

Somehow I managed to get the food out faster and with less mistakes than previous cooks, so I was welcomed into the underbelly of the Muddy's staff in the summer of 1992. Little did I know that summer I would find my calling, see my future wife and have quantum physics explained by a vampire.

Downtown Denver was being revamped by short-sighted development and uncreative entrepreneurship, leaving Muddy's as a true bastion for the malcontent, the nocturnal, the macabre princesses, the role-playing-game occultist, the opportunistic drug dealers and others who sought refuge from the sporty new look of downtown. Muddy's was the Moulin Rouge of the Queen City. Tables filled with subjective tarot-card readers, maudlin writers and young theater enthusiasts all mixing under a cloud of clove smoke and bopping to the sound of live improv jazz. Being far too pragmatic to purely hang out at Muddy's, I enjoyed the utilitarian purpose of my participation in this underworld. So fulfilling did I find this that I continue doing it today as the owner of WaterCourse Foods.

Denver remained somewhat pure back then. The coastal influences were diluted by distance and open to manipulation by Midwestern boredom. Country music had never sounded more morose, punk rock never played so loud. Early-evening thunderstorms washed the grime from the day down the drains, leaving a cool, fresh start for the evening.

One such summer evening the Rok Tots , an ungodly loud and precise band, played theLion's Lai, a spontaneous and unrefined hero for the local music scene. Unbeknownst to me, the bartender was the lovely Michelle McManus, whom I would marry six years later. Muddy's, the Mercury Cafe, the Lion's Lair and Calvin's made up an incongruous setting for the comings and goings of a small underground scene. Like mourning a cup of coffee that has been consumed, I would be a fool to lament the good old days of Denver. Denver's heyday was many, many years ago, when the grand valley flooded every century. By the 1990s we were well on our way to compromising our independent integrity to be a second-rate "real" city. Muddy's was a last bastion of the independent semi-urban west.

I read the man who is putting in a discotheque where Muddy's once was decided to leave up a few walls for artistic or sentimental value. Bullshit. I am sure there are zoning and permit benefits to leaving them up. The building, as Tim Fink put it, was a piece of shit. That building is just a sarcophagus that entombed a memory of a time in Denver's history when reading, music, poetry and strong-ass coffee were important to our culture. The building is not worth eulogizing, the culture is.

Rest in peace.

Scene and herd: Yes, that was David Kopel, Independence Institute analyst and Channel 12 and Rocky Mountain News pundit, playing himself in Fahrenhype 9/11, which had a showing Monday night at the Westminster Dave & Buster's. From there the film went direct to DVD on Tuesday -- which just happened to be the day that Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was also released on DVD. Later this week, Kopel will explain the "59 deceits" of Moore's movie to a TV crew visiting from Sweden. ... Just in time for Friday's second presidential debate parties, those pranksters at Le Bakery Sensual have baked up some political double entendres, with cupcakes bearing the marzipan messages "Beat Dick" and "Lick Bush." Of course, the bakery can create any slogan, says cake-maker John Spotz, "but our clientele is...well, predominantly supports Democrats, I've noticed." What? Marilyn Musgrave's not a big fan of the penis-shaped cakes?

And speaking of Satan, the former church building at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and Cedar Avenue just got graffiti-bombed, with the tagger leaving this note: "Satan compels me." Good to know.


What's So Funny?

By Adam Cayton-Holland

Ah, debate season, when a young man's political fancy lightly turns to thoughts of, "Wait, you mean they're not going to show The Apprentice tonight? Fuck!"

Indeed.

After a series of painful campaign ads leading up to the big event, the Men in Suits took their mikes and let loose with ninety minutes of sheer, unadulterated politickin'. My favorite moment came in the final round, when Kerry thought of all the things that Bush could say about him -- how he slept with his girlfriend, how Kerry got beat up by W's crew, how Kerry's boy Cheddar Bob shot himself in the leg, how Kerry still lives in a trailer with his mom -- and then turned around and said all those things about himself first. Then Kerry was all "What now? What are you gonna say about me that I didn't already say, sucka?" And Bush was so tongue-tied that he couldn't even think of a response. So Kerry won the battle and then went back to his job at the plant, hell-bent on finally recording his rap album.

Wait, that might have been 8 Mile.

Regardless, last Thursday's debate had plenty of highlights: the lockjawed, painful opening handshake; Bush twice using the phrase "multi-pronged," a hyphenated word that, until whispered to him by an aide minutes before the debate, he thought was reserved for the plug on his foot-massager in Crawford; the enormous discrepancy in microphone length to mask the fact that Kerry towers over Bush -- do you want a president who uses a long mike or a short one? Think about it -- and that timeless classic, "vociferous."

All in all, it was a jim-dandy debate, and we have two more to look forward to. But first the combatants must prepare themselves. Last time around, Bush trained at his Texas ranch -- shirtless, with the Rocky soundtrack blaring in the background -- while Kerry took four days in Wisconsin, a-huntin' and a-drinkin' to appeal to voters still on the fence in that state. This time, Kerry's doing his training in Colorado. Boy howdy!

Shrewdly citing the benefits that our high altitude has had on the Denver Broncos -- no kidding -- the Democratic presidential candidate is spending part of this week in Arapahoe County, preparing for the debate on Friday, October 8. (We here at What's So Funny feel it our duty to inform Senator Kerry that should he choose to engage in any underage drinking while in Colorado, he should probably do it somewhere besides Arapahoe County. Trust us.) While it's not one of several pivotal swing states, Colorado still has plenty of undecided voters, and training here could prove a smart move by the Kerry campaign. But there are other reasons Kerry chose to come here. Just a few:

• Wanted to see where Klondike and Snow were born

• Intrigued by Colorado's innovative three-strikes-and-you're-still-not-out sexual-assault policy

• Relentlessly scoured other 49 states, couldn't find sparring partner even close to being as unpredictable and dynamic as that rock star Ken Salazar

• Bright lights of Wyoming too distracting

• If Teresa Heinz Kerry doesn't make it to sprawling Aspen estate for annual capture, release and ruthless manhunt of duped vagrant, she won't put out until New Year's

• Been wanting to visit original Chipotle for a long time now

• Finally settle score with One-Eyed Chester, homeless vet now living in Civic Center Park who swiped Kerry's jungle-rations packet outside Hanoi in '69

• Promised VIP tour of U.S. Mint

• Born at Fitzsimons, felt it was time to get back to his Aurora-trash roots.

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